You've found Father McKenzie. But are you really looking for Eleanor Rigby?

Wednesday, June 02, 2004


Allow me to begin with a quote from the most recent document published by the Uniting Church in Queensland, which came out of Synod 2004. The context could be any contemporary writing or philosophising about the nature of the church; in this case it refers to theological education. Nevertheless, the spirit of the argument rings true in many ears as many Australian Christians have developed a “cultural cringe” about their faith. While such sentiments may seem right and reasonable on first inspection, closer examination exposes the inherent weaknesses in such propositions.

“Let me take this one small step further. The church is by no means the only way in which God accomplishes God’s mission. Once we understand the nature of God and the signs of the Reign of God, it takes little more than keeping our eyes and ears open to realise that God often works outside the church. Jesus is reported as having said, “He who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40; but cf. Matt 12.30). The church has no monopoly on God’s mission. The church certainly does not possess God’s mission as a right. The church may well fail to serve the reign of God and become self-focussed, lose its nerve, distort the message entrusted to it and bring shame to the One we claim to serve. A healthy humility is therefore far more realistic and honest than an unseemly triumphalism.”

This quote begs the question: What is God mission? It is the work of reconciliation. Although this word has become hackneyed through overuse in social justice circles to imply the relationship between two aggrieved parties, in its original Biblical context it is much more one–sided than this: it is God who is aggrieved and we who are at fault. The Church, as God’s agent in the world, is intimately involved in both the message and the act of reconciliation. To quote the Apostle Paul:

18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. to reconcile the world to him through Christ”

God’s mission is thus the message and act of reconciliation. The means through which God accomplishes this is his Christ. And the messenger of Christ is the church. Paul here speaks personally, but he also speaks for all Christians everywhere. As agents of the Gospel, the people of God who make up God’s true church are appointed to spread the message of reconciliation with God through Christ.

The reconciling mission of God is accomplished outside the Church through the work of the Spirit, who leads us to Christ. It is comforting to know that God does work outside the Church, in order to bring people in to a relationship with Christ and engagement with his people, as an expression of his mercy. To assert that God works outside the Church is to require another mission. The reconciling mission of God through Christ has been entrusted to the Church, not to any third party. We must take seriously the fact that the buck stops here.

Additionally, the question of right is not ours to take, because a right implies that which is ours by merit. Rather, it is God’s purposes we as the church are to accomplish, not our own, so that neither the mission nor the mandate are our own, and that there may be no boasting. If we assert it as a right, we are in the wrong

Of course the church, as populated by flawed human beings with a willingness to submit themselves to the will of God, will fail to achieve this mission in many instances. However, a focus on failure does not generate humility or honesty; quite the reverse – it generates misery and a culture of blame. True humility lies in the acknowledgement that God in his awesome majesty has entrusted the message of the reconciling mission of Christ to his unworthy believers on Earth. Anything less is not only selling ourselves short as possessors of God’s truth, but denying God’s choice of agency in the church.

Indeed, it goes as far as denying Christ, as such arguments imply that the Christians have somehow lost touch with who God really is, and he needs to be sought elsewhere. While seeming humble, such attitudes negligently disregard the scriptural witness regarding Christ as God’s appointed exclusive Saviour. They consequently deny the appointment of the church as Christ’s ambassadors in proclaiming God’s mission of reconciling the world to himself.

No comments: